Pat Connaughton hopeful NBA can resume season soon
As states around the country begin to re-open and stay at home orders loosen could that mean the return of professional sports as well? Former Notre Dame player Pat Connaughton's pro basketball career is in limbo as he waits to find out.
Connaughton’s dream of competing in the NBA’s slam dunk competition had just come true and his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, were on a championship run with a league best 53-12 record when life got flipped upside down because of COVID-19.
“It was crazy. I had one of the ESPN games on and I had League Pass on that was switching back and forth and the League Pass game was actually the game, the Jazz and the Thunder were involved in. And then things started to kind of break, that that game wasn’t happening, and Rudy Golbert was potentially positive and we just sat there and watched Twitter, we were probably looking at Twitter for like an hour and a half. I should have just thrown Twitter up on the television because it was that fascinating," Connaughton said.
On March 19th, 8 days after the NBA suspended its season, the league mandated all teams close practice facilities.
Connaughton hasn’t played since, which has been difficult.
"I think that’s been the one thing that’s been the toughest is the facilities shut down. The NBA shut down their facilities the week after the pandemic. Being in an apartment, I don’t have a hoop in my yard or anything like that, so that’s probably been the most difficult part so far. I’ve been able to dribble a basketball around my apartment a little bit and try to cross up a few chairs but for the most part I’ve been stuck without playing and that’s also an adjustment," Connaughton said.
Some teams have been permitted to reopen practice facilities where it is allowed by the state.
Currently Wisconsin’s stay at home orders last through May 26th.
“That will be the toughest part and that will be the thing I think the NBA will have to try and figure out if and when we are able to get back to playing is, how do we make sure that guys are not only in shape physically but in shape from a skill set for basketball," Connaughton said.
As the country slowly begins to reopen, reports are coming out that the NBA is working on a plan to resume and finish out the season.
Sports Illustrated and the New York Times report the MGM Grand in Las Vegas has offered its facilities to house players and host games in a "fully quarantined campus."
“It would be like a bubble, it would be very strict. It would be testing before you got there. There would be testing for the two weeks while you were there for the 'incubation period.' And then there would be nobody coming or going for the entire time. So it would be a sacrifice, guys wouldn’t be able to see their families, their kids, things like that. But it’s what would have to be done because health and safety is the number one priority, so that’s what they’re trying to figure out now and I think that’s the most difficult part," Connaughton said.
Connaughton says he is using his time off from the NBA to work on his real estate development business. He has projects all over the country including South Bend.
“I’m hoping guys are taking this time to think about things that they like or want to do outside of basketball. A kind of mini-retirement simulation if you will, where this is what it’s going to be like when the ball stops bouncing," Connaughton said.
He is also working on his non-profit, the With Us Foundation.
He says he plans to return to South Bend during the off season to reconnect with Coach Mike Brey, current and former teammates and to do outreach with kids in the Michiana community.
“It’s always a place I want to try to continue to give back to because not just Notre Dame, South Bend makes that place special," Connaughton said.
Before the coronavirus pandemic brought the NBA season to a stop, Connaughton was averaging 18 minutes a game with 5 points, 4 rebounds and nearly 2 assists per contest.
He is in his final season of a 2-year contract with the Milwaukee Bucks.